Iowa isn’t as good as we thought after four games, or as bad as some are thinking after the last two games
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The anger and frustration that you’re feeling right now can be summed up in five words: Hawkeye football under Kirk Ferentz.
You knew this could happen, that Iowa could have some early success based on the schedule and build hope and optimism before falling back to earth when the competition improved.
You knew there was a chance that Iowa’s running game could sputter against quality defenses.
And you knew that winning more than eight or nine games with this schedule would take a herculean effort, and some luck
Or, at least you should have known those things based on Iowa’s track record under the 64-year old Ferentz.
The 2019 schedule, which continues on Saturday with Purdue coming to Kinnick Stadium on homecoming, had fool’s gold written all over it because of where the opponents were placed on the schedule.
Iowa made it through one-third of the schedule unscathed at 4-0 by defeating three opponents – Miami of Ohio, Rutgers and Middle Tennessee State – that were vastly inferior.
Rutgers is one of the worst Big Ten teams in recent memory, while Miami of Ohio and Middle Tennessee State are both mid-major programs that have no business even being competitive against a respectable Big Ten team.
Iowa’s 18-17 victory over Iowa State on Sept. 21 in Ames is by far the crowning achievement so far this season.
The other three wins, on the other hand, were foregone conclusions that mostly just padded Iowa’s record.
That isn’t meant as criticism because every power 5 team plays at least one or two nonconference games in which the outcome is all but decided before kickoff.
Iowa could play Middle Tennessee State 100 times and would win 100 times.
But it still was easy to get carried away, and to embrace the hype, after seeing Iowa shutout Rutgers 30-0; after seeing Iowa find a way to win at Iowa State 18-17 in a game that lasted for nearly six hours due to two weather delays that lasted for nearly three hours; and after seeing Iowa rush for 351 yards during a 48-3 beat-down against Middle Tennessee State.
The 38-14 victory over Miami of Ohio in the season opener also passed the eye test from a style standpoint.
But then along came back-to-back games at Michigan on Oct. 5th, and against Penn State at Kinnick Stadium this past Saturday, and with those two games, also came a reality check.
Iowa has a 15-6 record over its last 21 games, but is just 10-11 over its last 21 conference games. Those two records say a lot about the state of the program.
Iowa isn’t as good as some thought during the four-game winning streak to start the season, but is probably better than what some of the gloom-and-doomers are thinking right now.
If your expectation for Iowa was to win the national title for the first time since it won some semblance of it in 1958, or at least make the college playoff for the first time ever, then yes, this season already is a failure.
There is always the chance that Iowa could run the table and win the Big Ten Championship game to finish 11-2, but would that even be enough to make the four-team playoff?
Probably not, but it still would make history as one of the greatest seasons ever for the Hawkeyes.
Nobody probably wants to hear this right now in the wake of back-to-back losses to Penn State and Michigan by a combined 12 points, but Iowa still has a lot to play for this season.
You could make a strong case for Iowa being favored in all but one of its final six conference games, the exception being at Wisconsin on Nov. 9.
That’s a lot to work with when you have a 4-2 record.
Hawkeye football rarely is as good as it seems under Kirk Ferentz, or as bad as it seems.
This is one of those bad stretches right now where it helps to be reminded of that.
The Iowa offensive line has gone from being a wrecking ball led by two future high NFL draft picks in Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson to just a wreck based on perceptions that have changed dramatically over the past two games.
Again, it’s a case where the offensive line wasn’t as good as the first four games might have suggested, or as bad as the last two games have suggested.
The truth is somewhere in that large gap and the rest of the season will help to find the truth.
Some fans have criticized Iowa offensive line coach Tim Polasek, saying he is to blame for the current problems with the running game. But in fairness to Polasek, Iowa has struggled to establish a running game against quality defenses long before he joined the staff in 2017.
It's a probem that has festered for years.
I had Iowa being 4-2 at this point, but with a loss at Iowa State and a win against Penn State.
But I also picked Iowa to finish 8-4, and that record wouldn’t sit well with the fans who bought into the hype before the season, and who then really bough into the hype after Iowa had won its first four games.
Some fans are bored with Iowa winning seven, eight, or even nine games, under Ferentz because that script has played out so many times before.
That boredom, also known as Ferentz Fatigue, is helping to feed the frustration right now.
And though easier said than done, the best way to handle a season under Ferentz is to just let it play out before drawing conclusions or pushing certain narratives.
Just when think you have a Ferentz-coached team figured out, it proves you wrong either by over-achieving or by under-achieving.
Iowa was pretty much left for dead last season after it lost three games in a row to Penn State, Purdue and Northwestern.
But the Hawkeyes rallied to defeat Illinois, Nebraska and a talented Mississippi State team in the Outback Bowl to finish 9-4 overall.
Iowa still has to play Illinois and Nebraska this season, and neither team seems any better than last season.
The running game, obviously, has to improve, and it probably will mostly due to the schedule. Iowa has shown that it can be a force on the ground against opponents that aren’t ranked or known for playing solid run defense, and the remaining schedule has several opponents who fall into one of those two categories, or both.
Purdue, Northwestern and Nebraska aren’t as good, at least right now, as many thought they would be heading into the season, although, Purdue has been decimated by injuries.
Northwestern’s quarterback play has been atrocious at times, while Nebraska continues to be weak up front on both sides of the ball, and is a mess on offense when quarterback Adrian Martinez doesn’t play, as was the case against Minnesota this past Saturday.
The Gophers have been better than expected at 6-0, but I still like Iowa’s chances in that game on Nov. 16th at Kinnick Stadium, with home-field advantage being the biggest reason for picking Iowa.
So I guess my message is don’t assume the worst right now despite how easy and how tempting that might be under the circumstances.
Iowa blew a golden opportunity against Michigan and Penn State and will ultimately pay a price for it.
But to already call the season a failure, or to dismiss it as a lost cause after just six games, is silly and misguided if you consider Iowa’s history under Kirk Ferentz.
This is just Hawkeye football where you take the good with the bad and hope that the good outweighs the bad when it’s all over.
And it usually does.